Friday, January 20, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for January 20

Guest: Craig Crawford, Nicholas Thompson, Brian Baird, William Blum, Maria Headley

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Spinning the spying, the White House launches a campaign to convince you to let it spy on you. The attorney general will speak, the president will photo-op at the NSA.

And they want Google records too, everything everybody Googled for one week. They say it is to thwart child pornographers. Not everybody's convinced that's the truth.

The abducted American journalist, the supposed deadline passes. Eight women in prison in Iraq are not released.

Let's call it the Osama book club. Bin Laden mentions the book "Rogue State" in his tape. On the Amazon bestsellers list, it jumps a few spots. Well, 209,542 spots, to be precise.

Maybe we need to hear what bin Laden thinks of "A Million Little Pieces," or maybe about "The Year of Yes," one woman asked out by different people in one year, 150 times, says yes 150 times. End result? Well, you'll just have to watch my interview with her, won't you?

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

If you Googled it, the government wants to know about it. And if you made a phone call or sent an e-mail that was monitored by the NSA without court approval, the government wants you to know it feels its actions were plenty legal.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the privacy debate in this country taking a new turn tonight, just days before President Bush starts taking his domestic spying defense tour on the road. How about we all Google the name George Orwell?

We begin tonight with the Big Brother PR blitz, President Bush heading back to the National Security Agency for another visit next week, on Wednesday, all part of the administration's latest push to convince everybody else that the president has the constitutional power to order all the spying with none of the bothersome warrants that he wants, that argument stretching out over 42 pages in a white paper from the Justice Department.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will himself make a speech next week about all this, sending the document to Senate leadership yesterday, the administration making the claim that the resolution Congress passed after 9/11 authorizing force against Afghanistan and against al Qaeda, quote, "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the NSA activities."

Naturally, as it is a matter of legal interpretation. just saying it does not make it so, one legal professor telling "The New York Times" today, "It is a pretty straightforward case where the president is acting illegally. This is domestic surveillance over American citizens for whom there is no evidence or proof that they are involved in any illegal activity, and it is in contravention of a statute of Congress specifically designed to prevent this."

Let's call in "Congressional Quarterly" columnist Craig Crawford and see whether he contravenes the Bush argument.

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": All right, I'll save them the trouble. I Googled "baloney sandwich" today, then.

OLBERMANN: I'm sure it means something in some secret code.

This White House tour next week sounds an awful lot like what the president tried to do with the Social Security plan, also with the plan for victory in Iraq plan.

On the other hand, the country is, according to the polls, almost split on spying, at least until it happens to them. Can this campaign work?

CRAWFORD: It probably can do better than Social Security. This is the right kind of security for the president to be taking about in terms of what makes him popular. Ever since 9/11, any time fear about terrorism is on the rise, his popularity is on the rise. And it's a good time (INAUDIBLE) with bin Laden in the news again for them to defend this practice.

OLBERMANN: You would think somebody else had been president on 9/11.

That one always mystifies me, that immediate association.


OLBERMANN: In any event, we heard this argument again today. If people getting phone calls from al Qaeda here in the U.S., we should know about it, as if there were banks of phone operators in caves in Afghanistan calling this country trying to sell people subscriptions, and as if 100 percent of the calls and the e-mails they looked at were from al Qaeda.

I mean, there has been a lot of condescension from the administration over the years since the election. But honestly, do they think everybody here is a 6-year-old idiot?

CRAWFORD: Sometimes I think they just might, Keith. But, you know, when it comes to how broad a sweep this was, they keep wanting to characterize it, they were only listening to people who were calling al Qaeda. But the evidence may end up showing that it was much broader than that. I think it probably will.

OLBERMANN: Yes, if it isn't, it's the most precise eavesdropping campaign of all time, and I'll sit here and take my hat off to whoever designed the computer program that allows it.

But in any event, back to what happened today. Just to make this a little bit more divisive, Karl Rove addressed all this in a speech today, and associated it with the pre-9/11, post 9/l1 mindsets drivel, did he not?

CRAWFORD: Now we get to the rub of what this is really about, I think, Keith, which is preparing for the battle for Congress, the elections in November. They're going to run on the war on terror. They always have, and it's always worked. Every time Bush has run, in an off year the last time.

So that is another reason, I think, they're talking so much about this (INAUDIBLE) this eavesdropping and defending it. They don't really have to defend it. Nobody, there's not a vote coming in Congress that's going to shut them down or anything. The lawsuits that may emerge are a long ways off.

I think this is more about preparing the battlefield for the congressional elections and getting the country focused on war and national security, because that's where Republicans will do best.

OLBERMANN: But in terms of ticking off the opposition and the people who might still be undecided in terms of that vote in the fall, the key phrase in the Justice Department analysis, taken from the congressional authorization of the use of force after 9/11, that the act, quote, "places the president at the zenith of his powers."

Is there somebody in the White House saying, Look, it's to our advantage to make the president look as much like either a superhero or a would-be dictator as possible? Or is it just happening that way by accident?

CRAWFORD: That's the other part of the agenda of all this is, this administration came into power, particularly Vice President Cheney, focused on their belief that the presidency had lost so much power over the last decades, and this was an opportunity this time to interpret that authorization in a way that as broadly as possible.

You know, the signing statements, he started issuing statements now when he signs legislation, which they are beginning to argue, and actually the judicial, the Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has signed onto this idea, that if a president says something when he signs a bill, he can affect how it's interpreted later on.

Many fronts, the Vice President Cheney's energy task force. There are so many areas where this administration has tried to expand the power of the presidency.

OLBERMANN: I had my fingers crossed when I signed this document, that (INAUDIBLE).

CRAWFORD: Yes, exactly, yes.

OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of "Congressional Quarterly," and, of course, here with Countdown and MSNBC, as always, sir, great thanks. Have a great weekend.

CRAWFORD: You bet. I welcome you to Google that fried baloney sandwich in West Virginia, by the way.

OLBERMANN: I'm telling you.

The next item on the Countdown privacy watch tonight, giving new meaning to the term "Google search." The Internet company now fighting an attempt by the Justice Department to gain access to huge amounts of its data about what Google's users want to see, Google's users being just about anybody in this country with a computer and Internet access, and many in other lands as well.

The search engine, so ubiquitous these days, that the word "Google" itself has, of course, become a verb, government lawyers saying they need the data to defend a law tied up in a court fight right now that was intended to shield children from sexually explicit material on the Internet.

Not everyone convinced that is the only reason. Should you think the government is piling on Google alone, consider this. The Justice Department also demanded search logs from Yahoo! and America Online, both of whom already rolled over and coughed up the data. A government spokesman says MSN, with which this network is affiliated, also complied, but that company refused direct comment.

Google may already be paying a steep price for standing its ground, its stock price declining 8.47 percent today, the biggest one-day drop in terms of percentage in its market history. That wasn't the only company that dropped, but it was the one that got the headline.

For a reality check on what might be at stake here, time to call in Nicholas Thompson, an editor at "Wired" magazine.

Thanks for joining us tonight.

NICHOLAS THOMPSON, "WIRED" MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me on the air.

OLBERMANN: What is the background here? What does the government want from Google, and why does it want it?

THOMPSON: It wants to be able to use a law that was passed in 1998 and that has been kicking around since then called the Child's Online Protection Act. And in order to do that, it's got to convince the courts that the law is constitutional, and to do that, it has to show that a child searching the Internet is apt to come across illicit material.

So what it wants is, it wants to know what people are searching for, and it wants to know the sites that Google allows you to look through. So it's asked Google for a whole lot of information on both of those counts.

OLBERMANN: And everything that it might find that didn't pertain to the case, it's supposed to do what with, throw out the window, or what becomes of anything that gets caught up in the fishing net?

THOMPSON: Well, that's - it is supposed to go out the window. I mean, this is just supposed to be used as statistical evidence in a court case. But what everybody is concerned about is that that's not what it's going to be used for, I mean, for two obvious reasons.

This is a government that's very aggressive about going after this kind of information, and Google has lots and lots of stuff on everybody who's used it.

OLBERMANN: Has Google ever shared any of its information before, to your knowledge?

THOMPSON: They - I don't think they've shared their information, but what they have done is, they have - what they, what they've done, they've complied with local laws, is the way they call that.

And what it means is, if China wants you not to be able to search for human rights, Google will block the phrase "human rights" from your search results. If the government of Burma wants you not to be able to find software that lets you get around their monitoring technology, Google will block you from finding that.

You know, their logo is, Don't be evil, but if the government wants them to be evil, they've tended to go along.

OLBERMANN: Given the context of other privacy fights, it becomes somewhat difficult, I think, to take the Justice Department at its word on this subject, as we described before, that the rest of the stuff's going to go out the window. Is it presumed at Google, at the other search engine companies, that more is being sought here than meets the eye?

THOMPSON: I'm not sure about that. Google seems - right now, Google seems particularly concerned not about privacy and not about individual rights. If you look at their court filings, they seem very concerned about giving up trade secrets. And if they think they give this information to the government, it'll help their competitors.

OLBERMANN: Now, the company took this, we mentioned, this more than 8 percent drop on its stock today, which seems remarkable, considering it was the only search engine to fight back. But beyond these self-protective measures, is there an element of privacy rights to their argument? Or are they just purely looking at it from this proprietary business secrets idea?

THOMPSON: Oh, they're definitely looking at it for - from a privacy rights angle. And you can see why. I mean, privacy rights are incredibly important, both in this Constitution and the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures, and also from Google's business perspective. People aren't going to want to use Google if they think that information is going to be fed right to Karl Rove.

OLBERMANN: And the other companies, though, the other, the other search engines didn't have the same kind of problem?

THOMPSON: They haven't made any particular comments about why they've done that. They've said things like, Well, we didn't give them information on specific people searching for specific things. But it's a little unclear, and they aren't being very open about their motivations.

OLBERMANN: Nicholas Thompson, an editor at "Wired" magazine, thanks for the great information on this one.

THOMPSON: Thanks a lot for having me here.

OLBERMANN: Is inside information of another sort on Capitol Hill helping line the pockets of people in the know? Even allegations that day-traders have set up shops in the offices of some congressmen. We'll talk to one representative demanding an investigation and changes.

And an extraordinary sidebar to that bin Laden tape from yesterday. The Oprah Winfrey of the Afghan cave network, now he's recommending books and having the kind of impact on at least one that Oprah could only dream of.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: It sure sounds like something illegal, inside information passed on to Wall Street traders before the general public has any access to it. But the inside intel is not coming from a publicly traded company. It's coming from Congress, and so far, there is apparently no law to ban it.

In our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, it is given the comically oblique name political intelligence. And it's nothing knew, described nearly a year ago in the publication "The Hill," amplified last December in "Business Week."

Political intelligence firms deliver information from the halls of Congress ahead of the news cycle. This includes the hot tips on pending legislation that could affect publicly traded companies. The people sitting on this valuable information are congressmen and their staffers.

The intelligence political firms, then, are the pipelines, the traders who act on that information, the beneficiaries, though there may be some question as to whether they are the only beneficiaries.

So far, for example, on November 16 of last year, Senate majority leader Bill Frist announced that he would push for legislation to relieve asbestos companies from liability. But one day earlier, November 15, the trading volume of one asbestos-related company doubled, and its stock price climbed.

The reason, news of Senator Frist's decision got to Wall Street one day ahead of the announcement through one of those political intelligence firms.

I'm joined now by a congressman who wants to see new standards governing this kind of insider information, Representative Brian Baird of Washington state.

Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

BAIRD. BRIAN BAIRD (D), WASHINGTON: Glad to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Let's stick with that Frist example first, the senator's press secretary telling us today that to their knowledge, in that office, nobody released the information the day before. So what could have happened here? And what do you think is wrong with a system that allows whatever happened to happen?

BAIRD: Well, in the course of our daily work, we come in contact with all sorts of information, which, if it - if you have the access to it before the rest of the public, you could make a fortune on trades, day trading or speculation and commodities.

Apparently what happened by reports is, a member of Frist's staff sent around a memo to selected lobbyists who were interested in the asbestos case. Somebody took that information, presumably, and decided to make some money off of it.

We need to stop that. If members of Congress or their staff have access to information that is not yet public, we need to make sure it doesn't get to selected individuals, because the potential for corruption is huge here. Someone contributes to your campaign or your PAC. In exchange, they build a relationship. You share information with them. They invest on that information, and they share, of course, some of the profits with you.

OLBERMANN: Didn't they put Martha Stewart and her stockbroker in jail for the business equivalent of that?

BAIRD: They surely did. If you get information from inside a company and make trades on that basis, it's illegal, and Martha Stewart went to jail for precisely that. If you get information from inside the Congress that is not yet public, you make a huge profit, and there's nothing currently illegal about it.

OLBERMANN: This idea that day-traders might actually be operating within the office of congressmen, where does that come from?

BAIRD: Well, at the end of year, we file a financial report, and you can look at what trades were made. Apparently, Tony Rudy, one of majority leader Tom DeLay's top staffers, was actually making day-trades while in the service of Tom DeLay.

Now, we don't have, necessarily, solid evidence yet. That was based on inside information he had. But you really have to wonder if someone in that position should be spending time day-trading, and if they are so scrupulous that they kept all the trades completely separate from their official congressional work.

OLBERMANN: You know, you'd really have to narrow down to all firms not affected by governmental business to not utilize knowledge like that, wouldn't you?

BAIRD: Well, it's really difficult. I mean, the issue here is, we don't have a clearcut standard for what is or is not confidential or privileged information.

And so if I share that information, or a staff member does, and somebody says, Well, I'm just going to take that, make a couple calls.

You know, imagine that you learned that ethanol is going to be in the energy bill, and you trade corn futures. Or you learn, for example, that at one of our 2:00 to 3:00 a.m. votes, which are increasingly common, a few lines are in that legislation that the general public doesn't know about, You make trades at the opening of the bell, and the rest of the public catches up later, and you make a killing in the short run.

We need to find a bright line that clarifies what is and is not public information, and make it illegal to make trades based on nonpublic information.

OLBERMANN: Congressman, how widespread do you think the problem is?

BAIRD: Well, we don't really know. But in this town, people tend to exploit loopholes, and you have to say, this is like having a $1,000 bill lying on the ground. Somebody must have looked at this. And when you look at, for example, the late-night votes I talked about, that is a perfect invitation. You have these terribly late votes, nobody in the Congress actually reads the bills, it turns out.

But somebody knows what's in it. And the potential for relationships where you contribute to a PAC or a campaign contribution, get a relationship with the staff, they share information, you then make a killing in the market, is - it's just too easy to exploit. You have to wonder. I believe it probably has been exploited.

And we should put a stop to it, and we should call for a Justice Department and SEC investigation.

OLBERMANN: And to some degree, is this spotlight that's being shined on this particular issue courtesy of Jack Abramoff?

BAIRD: Well, certainly. The Abramoff scandals, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay's actions, this whole culture of corruption that we hear about, basically, what's happening is, people are using their elective office for personal benefit and for the benefit of the people who support them politically. And we need to put a stop to that.

OLBERMANN: Representative Brian Baird of Washington, great thanks for your time, and good luck with this, sir.

BAIRD: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the threat to the life of the American journalist Jill Carroll. The deadline has come and gone.

And the burglar was going his level best. He had not counted on the store owner who had his best level.

All that and more ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: We're back, and once again we pause our Countdown of the serious news of the day for our nightly weird news and cool video segment, special Friday night dumb criminals edition.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for another episode of happy fun time grocery store surveillance video. In today's, the man in the hood is robbing the checkout girl.

Well, not any more he's not. Cleanup in aisle five. The man in the yellow is the grocery-store owner, Miguel Perez, and he has just whacked Mr. Robber with a five-foot carpenter's level. Ow! That'll knock you a few bubbles off center.

The robber went down, and he went down hard, knocked unconscious right there in the 12-items-or-less lane. When he woke up, he saw two things. The police were there to arrest him, and 10 cents off canned beets, what a deal!

Even dumber, perhaps, Mr. George Melendez of Lowell, Massachusetts. He's under arrest for bank robbery after sticking up this one in Dracut, Mass., claiming he had a bomb in his backpack. Part one of his plan worked quite well. The teller promptly gave Melendez several thousand dollars. But for some reason, part two involved leaving the bag behind to keep the tellers good and scared.

Bomb squad robots were sent in, and, of course, there were no explosives in the bag, only books, one of them with Melendez's name and home address written in it. George Melendez, supergenius.

Speaking of books, in the tape released yesterday, Osama bin Laden mentioned a particular one. Today it moved up about from 20,000 or so on the bestseller list to around number 30. Clearly, the terrorists have won. We'll talk to the author.

And you remember the song from the musical "Oklahoma!", "I'm Just a Girl Who Cain't Say No?" We will meet her. For an entire year, everybody who asked her out on a date got the same answer, You betcha!

Those stories ahead.

But first, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Deputy Police Chief Tom Williams of Winona, Minnesota, who had to call in a HazMat crew to clean up a potentially dangerous spill near the county government building - milk. In terms of storm sewers and such, milk from a milk tanker is considered a hazardous material. But do keep drinking lots of it.

Number two, Mongkon Pusuwan of Singapore, who was convicted of dealing drugs. His sentence, he was to be caned. But in Singapore, women cannot be caned. He had a sex change.

Number one, Kaidi Aher, spokesman for the president of Estonia, trying to put the best face on a scandal at the presidential palace there, where the president's teenaged granddaughters recently entertained their friends, resulting in a published photo of a teenaged boy naked except for a belt in the palace. "It was a boy, not a girl," said Aher. "A naked girl would be completely different." Well, you have me there, yes, sir, yes, it would be completely different.


OLBERMANN: There has been no communication, to anyone's knowledge, from the terrorists who kidnapped an American journalist and swore to kill her by tonight if their demands were not met. But more contact than anybody could possibly want has come from the most wanted terrorists on, of all things, books and poetry. More on the absurdity of Osama's book club in a moment.

But we begin our third story on the Countdown tonight on this 25th anniversary of the day the embassy hostages were released in Iran, with the agonizing wait in Iraq for word on the fate of Jill Carroll.

Our correspondent in Baghdad in Preston Mendenhall.


PRESTON MENDENHALL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pleading for his daughter's life, Jill Carroll's father sent a message to her captors broadcast on Middle Eastern TV channels.

JIM CARROLL, FATHER OF KIDNAPPED JOURNALIST: I want to speak directly to the men holding my daughter, Jill.

MENDENHALL: Jim Carroll said his daughter is innocent, just a journalist. And in Baghdad, a Sunni Arab politician Carroll was on her way to interview when she was abducted also called for her release. But tonight, no word on Jill Carroll. And judging by other kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq, it could be a long wait.

In the case of four Christian peace activists, including American Tom Fox, two deadlines passed in December. The group hasn't been heard from since.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm an American national.

MENDENHALL: Another American hostage, contractor Roy Hallums, was held for 10 months in a small cage before his chance rescue by U.S. forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my case, I was kept blindfolded all the time.

MENDENHALL: Jill Carroll's abductors call themselves the Revenge Brigades, a group also reportedly responsible for the kidnapping of the sister of Iraq's interior minister. She was freed this week, as the Carroll family continued to wait.

Preston Mendenhall, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: And turning to those terrorists who are communicating with the rest of the world, a new 17-minute audiotape surfaced on the Web this afternoon, purportedly from bin Laden's chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. But it is unclear exactly when the recording was made, because he made no mention of last week's attack in Pakistan aimed at him. He makes no mention of anything else in the recent past.

In fact, our MSNBC translator, Alfred Arian, says the tape sounds surprisingly similar to a recording Zawahiri made in 2001 after a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan killed his wife and daughters. Then, as now, he mainly just reads a poem praising martyrs, quoting, "O Lions who pursue the Zionist gangs in Afghanistan and its mountains and in its wounded capital, Kabul, to all of you I have the honor to introduce this ode."

Perhaps the sudden literary turn can be explained as a cue from his boss, Osama bin Laden, who yesterday recommended a book to the American public, calling it, quote, useful to read. In question, the book, William Blum's "Rogue State," a guide to the world's only superpower, first printed in 2000, updated in 2005.

And apparently, Osama's book club recommendation is spawning a bestseller of sorts. Twenty four hours, "Rogue State" was rated 209,572 at's bestseller list. Now, thanks to the bin Laden mention, it is number 26.

Joining me now by phone is the author of "Rogue State," William Blum.

Thanks for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: Just 24 hours after bin Laden's statement, the book jumps over 209,500 places on the Amazon bestseller list. Obviously, any author would like that kind of leap, but how do you feel about the fact that it's the result of the recommendation of a mass murderer?

BLUM: That doesn't bother me. If he and I share a deep resentment of certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy, as my book does, and he shares those views, that, taken by itself, doesn't bother me.

The book stands on its own legs. If people read the book, they will either find it credible or they will not find it credible. And it doesn't matter who recommended it or not. The book stands by itself.

And I'm very anxious to have as many people read it as can be. And if his endorsement, if that's the word to use, gets it to many more people, then I'm glad.

OLBERMANN: It seems almost facile to point this out, but you did not obviously ask for that to happen.


OLBERMANN: But it has happened, and inadvertently this leads to financial reward. Do you have a plan for the additional profit here?

BLUM: I have no idea whatsoever how much money is involved. I don't know. Those rankings are not the same as sales. I don't - we're not talking of large numbers. My publisher - this issue, this edition of my book, only about 2,000 copies were printed. So, I mean, it can't be too much of a sale.

OLBERMANN: In the audio message, bin Laden specifically referenced the introduction to your book, saying that you had said - let me quote it exactly - "If I were president, I would halt the operations against the United States. First, I will extend my apologies to the widows, orphans, and the persons who were tortured. Afterwards, I will announce that the U.S. interference in the world countries has ended forever," ending the quote from bin Laden.

But am I right that's not even from your book, "Rogue State"?

BLUM: No, it's not. It's taken from something I wrote, which appears in one of my other books. It also appears probably all over the Internet, because I've used it in various speeches I've given and the writings of mine. So it's very easy to find that paragraph on the Internet. But what he quotes there are just - it's a small portion only of that paragraph.

OLBERMANN: There's a certain irony to that, too.

Given the fact that the book is meant to explain what people like bin Laden would list as their reasons for enmity towards the U.S., I guess this is understating this - you've probably gotten a lot of blowback from people here who do not want to hear that, who do not want to believe there is a rationale, even if it is flawed or prismed in a bad way, or something like that - but can somebody - I'm not trying to be patronizing here, but can somebody read your book without, as I heard it phrased on this network last night, being in bed with Osama bin Laden?

BLUM: Yes. When I wrote the book, I was not in bed with him. I'd hardly even heard of him. The was written before - the first edition of it was written before 9/11, even.

The book, it stands quite independent of any Islamic fundamentalist or any terrorist movement. It attempts to explain the motivations in the minds of terrorists.

Now, there are people who think that anti-American terrorists are just mindless, irrational beasts with no good reason for doing what they do. But, in the minds of these terrorists, there is a rational motivation. And I attempt to explain that. And I think it's important for Americans to understand that these people in their own minds have a very clear and good motivation.

OLBERMANN: It is amazing to think that the people who are most vehemently opposed to the Osama bin Ladens of this world, with good reason, often don't want to hear any of the logic behind the behaviors of Osama bin Laden and others, when at minimum you could use whatever knowledge you gain of that against people like Osama bin Laden, couldn't you?

BLUM: Well, what I suggest is that you use that knowledge to rectify the situation. Of course, basically, it's U.S. foreign policy which creates anti-American terrorists. It's the things we do to the world.

It's not, as the White House tells us, that they hate our freedom and democracy. That's just propaganda. They hate our foreign policy. They hate what we do to them, the bombings, and the invasions, and the occupations, and the torture, and a whole bunch of other things.

And if what I have in my book can lead to changes in our foreign policy, that would be the purpose I'm looking for.

OLBERMANN: Bill Blum, the author of "Rogue State," the book inadvertently perhaps mentioned in the Osama bin Laden tape yesterday, and somewhat erroneously mentioned. Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

BLUM: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

OLBERMANN: More twists to the saga of the basketball player who went into the stands tonight. The fan threatening a lawsuit. Now he says he does not want a million dollars, more like $2,000. And he says he's still a big fan of the guy.

Something else looking like a fish out of water, only it's not a fish and it's in the water. As one London newspaper headlines it, "Celebrity Big Blubber." That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: We showed you yesterday that a whale had been discovered on the steps of the Japanese embassy in Berlin. But we know how it got there. It had died. Greenpeace had volunteered to transport for free to a museum, then proved to have an ulterior motive, turning the dead, would be Moby Dick into a means of protesting against whaling, laying literally on the door step of a nation notorious for it.

Our number-two story on the Countdown tonight, the whale in London, in the Thames. That's another story altogether. This one is very much alive and very much, as Dawna Friesen reports, there of its own volition.


DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lost, alone and far from home, it has captivated the British capital. A northern bottlenose whale, usually found in the deep waters of the North Atlantic, swimming under London's bridges. An instant new tourist attraction: whale-watching on the Thames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's amazing, really. It is. (INAUDIBLE) life line. I hope he gets back safely to where he came from.

FRIESEN: There's no record of this species ever seen here. About 17 feet long, weighing seven tons, it's not used to shallow freshwater, so many boats, and hovering news helicopters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These creatures can't live without saltwater.

FRIESEN: Every moment of this whale's tale covered live on 24-hour news channels. Here, a map shoes it away from a shallow shore. But fascination soon turning to fear.

CLARE STIRLING, INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE: It's rising out of the water a lot, which shows it's distressed and it's injured.

FRIESEN: Blood has been spotted, along with several cuts.

(on-screen): Experts are baffled about why one of the world's deepest diving whales would come here to the murky, tidal Thames? It may old or ill, but they do know is the longer it stays here, the less likely it is to survive.

(voice-over): Tonight, marine mammal experts are standing by with rescue boats. But the whale has been spotted downstream, which may mean it's seen enough of the big city and is headed back to the deep sea.

Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.


OLBERMANN: From London to Paris. That's tonight's clever segue into our roundup of the world's entertainment and - in English, worlds of entertainment and celebrity, "Keeping Tabs," Paris Hilton, who almost single-handedly keeps this segment in business, although perhaps in this case handedly is not the correct term.

Today's fodder, a Hawaiian taxi driver telling the "National Enquirer" that Hilton had an "Oh-oh!" in his cab, but was too drunk to notice, and apparently does not opt for Depends. The cabbie then did what any good "CSI" fan would do. He used a towel to clean up the seat and kept the towel, capturing the heiress's DNA for all time.

The driver claims some of Paris' buddies later got into his cab and bullied him, offering him $200 bucks for the towel. Now, I'll top that bid!

And, oh, by the way, about there not being a Paris Hilton "I Did an Uh-Oh in a Cab" Puppet Theater? You're welcome.

And the saga of Antonio Davis today calmed down a little bit, but just a little bit. You will remember that Davis raced - well, kind of ambled to the apparent defense of his wife, Kendra, during a game between his current team, the New York Knicks, and his old one, the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night in Chicago.

She insisted - and he later affirmed - that she was the victim of an abusive, drunken fan, who, quoting him, "assaulted her." All witnesses who have thus come forward - thus far come forward insist nobody touched Mrs. Davis. The Chicago Bulls haven't even revoked the tickets of the fans in the altercation.

Last night, one of them, Michael Axelrod, said Mrs. Davis had grabbed him and he would be suing for defamation. His attorney mentioned $1 million. Today, Axelrod today the attorney was only mentioned a price range. What he wants is an apology from the Davises for calling him drunk and a donation of, say, $2,000 to a charity.

Davis tonight says, quote, "I'm not apologizing to anybody for anything. I don't think that my wife did anything wrong. I don't think that I did anything wrong." Axelrod, meanwhile, also told my partner, Dan Patrick, on the radio today that he's a fan of Davis' and wishes Davis still played for Chicago.

And six days after his ex-wife, Shelly Winters died, so too has the actor Tony Franciosa. His career ranged from a 1956 Tony Award nomination for the Broadway play, "A Hatful of Rain," through a 1996 film appearance in "City Hall." In between, he was one of the stars of the NBC series, "Name of the Game," in the late-'60s and early-'70s, and gave a chilling performance in one of the most underrated movies of all time, 1957's "A Face in the Crowd."

Tony Franciosa suffered a massive stroke yesterday and died at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 77.

Also tonight, an entire year without turning anyone down who asked her out. She is ahead.

But first, time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for worst person in the world.

The bronze goes to Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of human resources at the University of Florida. The school's employees have a new health plan there under which they can enroll their husbands, wives, domestic partners, provided they swear in affidavit that they are having sex with them. Mr. Cavanaugh says the school anticipates taking a long look at modifying that requirement.

Tonight's runner-up, Frank Abramoff, the father of the pleaded-out lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The elder Abramoff has responded to George Clooney's Golden Globes award joke about the name Jack Abramoff in a letter to a Palm Springs newspaper.

In that letter, he called Clooney's joke as a lapse of lucidity and an obscene query, q-u-e-r-y. He also defends his son as a, quote, "fine man." Well, he had me up until the last part.

But the winner, Reverend Prophet Ron Williams of the Miracle of Prayer Church in Grove Hill, Alabama. His secretary was arrested and jailed last week. Williams went to the jail, demanded her release. Deputies say he caused a near riot while doing so and, in the middle of it, he warned one of the deputies to leave him alone. He pointed to his cell phone and said, quote, "I got Johnny Cochran on the phone right now."

Johnny Cochran died last March. Reverend Prophet Ron Williams, today's worst person in the world!


OLBERMANN: Depending on the strictness of the definition of the term, I believe I can say that I have been asking women out on dates for 31 years, two months and either 14 or 15 days. My memory's good but not that good.

I've received more than the occasional no. And to be fair, I've received the occasional no followed later, in one case, 26 years later, with a very satisfying, "Gee, I wish I said yes 26 years ago."

I have also received the occasional yes, followed later, in one case, 26 minutes later, by the very disorienting, "Gee, I wish I'd said no 26 minutes ago."

Our number one story on the Countdown, as large and as terrifying as some of those numbers are, they are nothing compared to the story of Maria Headley, who decided that her dating standards were just a little too high and who, for a year, decided to yes to anyone and everyone who asked her out.

Sounding like an equal-opportunity employer, for 12 months in 1998 she accept the invitations without regard to sex, race, age, income or ethic origin. And what did she get out of it? A hundred and fifty dates. That's nearly one every other day. Also, a new book called "The Year of Yes," which is out now, and a husband. Headley met and eventually married Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, a man 25 years her senior, with two teenage children from a previous marriage. It was perhaps a match she might not have considered if not for this experiment and the resulting open-minded that led her to date everyone from a homeless man to millionaires and everything - literally, it seems - in between.

And she joins us now. Ms. Headley, good evening.


OLBERMANN: I heard a description of the average date in an advertisement on the radio today. And it was this: You might as well just punch yourself in a sensitive part of your body and throw away $50 bucks.


And I can understand that description if it was somebody my age, but it sounded like it was a kid of about 20 speaking. That was your age when you hit the "I'm sick of all this" wall. What was the last straw?

HEADLEY: The last straw was a guy who called me up and said, "I'm listening to NPR. Do you want to come over and make out?"


HEADLEY: And that just wasn't - no aphrodisiac quality there for me. I thought, "I'm dating the wrong kind of guy." And I thought I was getting so many offers elsewhere, just walking down the street in New York - there are eight million - you know, I thought there must be something different out there.

OLBERMANN: So with that, another use for NPR being decided against, you decide to say yes to everyone, and some of the everyones included a homeless person, non-English speakers, and other women. That doesn't sound necessarily practical or safe. Did you see it in those terms?


HEADLEY: Well, practical is something that, when you're 20 years old, it doesn't matter that much, practicality. And safe, I was definitely not saying yes to people who were staggering drunk, or definitely on drugs, or married, if I knew they were married. So I was trying to watch out for my safety. I didn't give people my phone number or tell them where I lived or anything like that.

OLBERMANN: Where did the - not to make fun of his situation, but where does a homeless man take a woman out on a date to?

HEADLEY: I actually took him out. I took him out for a falafel. We just went for, you know, $5 worth of pita bread.

OLBERMANN: The falafel reference just through me for a second, because it has another context with another broadcaster, but I'll skip that.

HEADLEY: That make me concerned.

OLBERMANN: Yes, it's about that guy, Bill O'Reilly. And he confused falafels and loofah sponges.

HEADLEY: No. Indeed, no.

OLBERMANN: Yes, no. That's somebody you should say no to.


Did you set any - I mean, were there rules besides those fundamental ones of, as you mentioned, the drug and marriage thing? Were there any other rules in terms of - that could have allowed you to say no?

HEADLEY: No, actually, not really. I mean, I couldn't say yes to people who were underage. Some underage kids hit on me, some 14 years olds. I said no to them.

OLBERMANN: Yes, you can't do that unless you're a school teacher. So during this time you met your husband. How did that happen? Was that - that wasn't part of the project, was it?

HEADLEY: No, I wasn't actually look for a husband. I was looking to fall in love. And I met him at the Kennedy Center, and he was married at the time. He was lots older than me, as you mentioned, kids. All of these things were things that I thought, "Oh, no, no, no."

But he was a writing idol of mine, and I thought he was an amazing person. I wanted to find someone just like him without all the baggage. And then, eight months later, he called. And he was getting divorced, and I had gone through 150 dates. And my feelings had changed about what constituted a good man.

OLBERMANN: So did it - the whole experience, did - they always say your standards are too high, standards - did it lower your standards or did it, as the other cliche goes, broaden your standards?

HEADLEY: It opened my mind, I guess, is what it did.


HEADLEY: It made me much more willing to look at different parts of people that I wouldn't have noticed, because I didn't like the color of their shirt before, you know what I mean?

OLBERMANN: Yes. Yep, no, I know that very well.


OLBERMANN: A hundred and fifty dates. There's got to be a best and a worst. Can you summarize the two?

HEADLEY: The best date that's not my husband was a date with a subway conductor who took me to Coney Island. And we went swimming. And it was the end of October, so it was freezing. But it was something I would never have done, and it was so much fun.

And the worst one - there were several bad ones - but the worst one was this guy who took me to - gave me an address to meet him at and it was a strip club. And he left me for a lap dance.


OLBERMANN: By the way, I only know 11 men who that could be, so I really can't help you out on that one. And I wouldn't divulge it anyway.


OLBERMANN: But this last question, would you recommend anybody else, male or female, try this?

HEADLEY: Yes. I think everybody could stand to have their mind opened a little bit. Everybody's probably too critical. I think that this is something that could definitely get you out of a rut.

OLBERMANN: I would think so.


OLBERMANN: At least out of the house. The book is "The Year of Yes."

Maria Headley, great thanks for your time.

HEADLEY: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Good luck with the book.

That's Countdown. Keep your knees lose. A reminded to join us again, please, at midnight Eastern, 11:00 p.m. Central, 9:00 Pacific for the late edition of Countdown. Until then, a special presentation of "MSNBC INVESTIGATES: LOCK-UP RIVERBEND" is next.

I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.